Wednesday, January 21, 2009


The Magnificent Art of Making Handmade Textiles

by Hira N. Hashmey

Throughout history, Asia has been known as a place producing the best in textiles. The art of making fabric from cotton was first perfected here, in the ancient southern part of this subcontinent. The Romans even sent traders to this area to get fine fabrics for their togas.

Womenfolk in the Indus Region of the subcontinent, presently the domain of an independent sovereign state of Pakistan have traditionally been the harbingers of this historical tradition. A particular type of such beautiful textiles produced in the area is the “Ralli” quilts.

Adorned with bright colors and bold patterns, the quilts are also called rilli, rilly, rallee or rehli derived from the local word ralanna meaning to “mix or connect”. For sake of simplicity and to avoid confusion in terms, used in different places of ralli production, the term “Ralli” has been used in this post; which by no means be taken as a standard term.

In Pakistan, rallis are made in the southern province of Pakistan including Sindh, in Balochistan province and Cholistan desert in Bahawalpur district of Punjab. Just across our borders, in India the art is found in the adjoining states of Gujarat and Rajasthan.

 Muslim and Hindu women from a variety of tribes and castes in towns, villages and also of nomadic settings usually make rallis. It’s an old tradition which probably dates back to the fourth millennium BCE, (as evidenced by similar patterns found even today on the ancient pottery in the subcontinent).
Rallis are commonly used as a covering for wooden beds, floor covering, storage bags, rugs and padding for workers or animals. In the villages, ralli is an important part of a girl's dowry. 
Ralli is termed “patchwork” in the west, a nomenclature used because of combining fine craftsmanship with thrifty recycling; more so, because it is the joining of shaped pieces of patterns or colored fabrics to form a rich mosaic. The technique offers a limitless scope to experiment with patterns, color and textures.

Patchwork is either a pieced work or appliqué:

The Pieced work is usually small regularly shaped scraps of material sewn together to form a strong fabric. Since patches are stitched to each other rather than to a background fabric, therefore, pieced work must be lined to hide raw edges at the back.
In Appliqué or the applied patchwork motifs are cut from plain or decorative fabrics. The edges are turned under the pieces and are hemmed or slipstitched to a background fabric. Sometimes the edges are left raw and a buttonhole stitch is used to join the fabric to the base in a more elaborate way.
The pattern making possibilities offered by patchwork are almost infinite, but the traditional patterns are still the most popular. The simplest patchworks are one-patch design based on a single geometric shape such as a triangle, a square or a hexagon. Beautiful effects can be achieved by using different fabrics to create patterns. For instance, in the tumbling block design, light, dark and middle tones are used to create a three-dimensional illusion.

In the last half of the nineteenth century, crazy patchwork became fashionable. Scraps of unrelated fabrics, silks, ribbons, satins or velvet, were sewn on to a backing. Each piece was outlined with feather stitching in thick silk, often in a golden thread. Crazy patchwork was used for quilts, table coverings, cushions, handkerchiefs and nightdress cases.

Some of the loveliest patchwork comes from the United States, where it is a popular folk craft. The earliest American quilts were made for protection against the harsh winter. As time passed, the colonists developed their own style. Indeed, the names given to many of the patterns – log cabin, barn raising, bear’s paw and cactus basket – reflect their origins.
They evolved in particular, the block method of working, in which case a series of rectangular or square units were made up separately and the stitched together to create a large quilt. The advantage was that the individual blocks were more manageable to work than one large quilt. Sometimes quilts were worked by several different people and became known as friendship quilts. Each individual would work a separate block, often in a different design. The skill came in assembling these independent blocks into an amazing pattern.

On many old quilts one may find a spider’s web embroidered in a corner, as recognition of a creator’s skill. In some areas a spider’s web would be laid on the back of a baby girls’ hand so that she would acquire some of that dexterity. Often, one finds a deliberate error in a patchwork, such as repeating motif worked in the wrong color. This reflected a belief that only God could create perfection and it was therefore inappropriate for a mere mortal to aspire new heights.

The rallis are made from numerous panels, some of which are square and some rectangular. Each panel is individually worked before being joined to its neighbors by means of a network of fine border strips. Some panels are made from colorful patchwork shapes, while others are prettily quilted and appliquéd with a range of motifs.

A patchwork quilt is centuries old craft with intricate patterns and a breathtaking admiration for the talented womenfolk who stitch these quilts. The designs look so intricate and the stitches so tiny and neat; yet in reality anyone who has made a patchwork knows how simple they are for these ladies to make. Patience is indeed the essence of such work because ralli quilts are usually very large and therefore take time to stitch, but most designs, are based on a square pattern made up of about a dozen patches. Once the craftswoman has mastered the design of one square, she can simply repeat it many times over and at the end sew them all together to make the beautiful cover. Some also include interesting border designs which make them extra special.

Once finished, the patchwork is backed with cozy wadding, quilted and lined. The quilting is not essential, but looks decorative and has the practical function of holding the wadding in place. 


No comments:

Post a Comment


Custom Search